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Asian markets fall as WHO mulls declaring global virus emergency

China reported its biggest single-day jump in novel coronavirus deaths on Thursday, as confirmation that three Japanese evacuated from the outbreak’s epicentre were infected deepened fears about a global contagion/AFP

HONG KONG, China, Jan 30 – Asian markets fell Thursday with tech stocks and airlines among key losers as the World Health Organization called an urgent meeting on whether to declare a global health emergency over a virus which has killed 170 people in China.

The WHO, which initially downplayed the severity of the disease, warned all governments to be “on alert” as China reported 1,700 new cases of the SARS-like virus which has infected 7,700 people and been detected in at least 15 countries.

Airlines around the world are either suspending or paring back services in and out of China following cases of human-to-human transmission outside the country, and manufacturers have also been cutting their Chinese operations.

US Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said the coronavirus posed a new risk to growth in China and elsewhere.

In Asian stock markets, Taipei closed down 5.8 percent on the first day of trade since the Chinese New Year break, with Eva Airways plunging 9.9 percent and market heavyweight and key Apple supplier Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing (TSMC) sliding five percent.

Fellow Apple supplier Hon Hai Precision Industry fell by the daily limit 10 percent after it said most of its manufacturing plants in China would remain closed until February 10.

The tech giant, better known as Foxconn, is the world’s biggest contract electronics maker and assembles Apple’s iPhones as well as gadgets for other international brands.

The move will likely impact global supply chains for tech companies that rely on the Taiwan firm to manufacture everything from iPhones to flat-screen TVs and laptops.

Foxconn, which employs more than one million workers in China, accounts for the most US-bound exports by volume from Hubei province, which is at the epicentre of the virus outbreak.

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Tokyo closed down 1.7 percent and Hong Kong ended 2.6 percent lower.

Japanese automaker Toyota said it would keep its plants in China closed until at least February 9 over concerns about the outbreak, which has killed 170 people and infected more than 7,700.

Among other markets, Seoul slipped 1.7 percent, Singapore retreated 0.8 percent and Sydney was down 0.3 percent.

European markets took their lead from the Asian losses, with London down 1.1 percent at the open, Frankfurt off 1.4 percent and Paris 1.5 percent lower.

“Equity markets remain acutely vulnerable to adverse developments in the Wuhan virus situation,” said OANDA analyst Jeffrey Halley.

Uncertainty

The Fed held its policy interest rate steady on Wednesday but was on alert for possible contagion to the domestic and global economies.

“There will clearly be implications at least in the near term for Chinese output and I would guess for some of their close neighbours,” Powell told reporters following the Fed’s policy meeting.

However, “the situation is really in its early stages and it’s very uncertain about how far it will spread and what the macro-economic effects will be”, he said. “We are very carefully monitoring the situation.”

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Oil fell following a higher-than-expected jump in US inventory, with Brent down 1.8 percent and the WTI contract off 1.7 percent.

Key figures around 0830 GMT 

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: DOWN 2.6 percent at 26,449.13 (close)

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 1.7 percent at 22,977.75 (close)

Shanghai – Composite: Closed for a public holiday

New York – DOW: UP less than 0.1 percent at 28,734.45 (close)

London – FTSE 100: DOWN 1.1 percent at 7,403.87

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1011 from $1.1005 at 2200 GMT

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.3011 from $1.3013

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Euro/pound: UP at 84.68 from 84.57 pence

Dollar/yen: UP at 108.84 from 105.04

Brent Crude: DOWN 1.8 percent at $57.85 per barrel

West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 1.7 percent at $52.42 per barrel

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